From Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) comes the true story of London's most notorious gangsters, twins Reggie and Ronnie Kray (Tom Hardy, Mad Max: Fury Road). As the brothers rise through the criminal underworld, Ronnie advances the family business with violence and intimidation while Reggie struggles to go legitimate for local girl Frances Shea (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch). In and out of prison, Ronnie's unpredictable tendencies and the slow disintegration of Reggie's marriage threaten to bring the brothers' empire tumbling to the ground.
There are two of everything in 'Legend.' Tom Hardy plays two characters. There are two drastically different tones that pop up throughout. And there are two different stories going on at the same time. On their own, each of the duplicated elements work quite well. Unfortunately, they don't work so well alongside one another.
'Legend' tells the story of London's Kray twins (both played by Tom Hardy), two brothers who reeked havoc in the world of organize crime. If the stereotype that what one twin lacks can be found in the other is true, then it has never been better exemplified than by the Krey brothers. Reggie is charming, charismatic, intelligent, cool and carries a magnetic personality. The only people to see through it are those in Scotland Yard. Ronnie, on the other hand, is psychotic. He can't be trusted. His temperament is out of control and he's terrifying. He has no moral conscious and is capable of terrible and violent things. If their characteristics were blended into one person, then the Krey brothers would make for the best crime lord of all time; however, apart makes them the oil-water leaders of an unsteady criminal institution. Reggie's vision is to establish a picturesque and perfect empire, while Ronnie's motivation is to hold power and for all to fear him.
Part of Reggie's perfect world includes a perfect family and lifestyle. The first act of Reggie's story is dedicated to showing him define and realize those goals. First, he pursues Frances Shea (Emily Browning), the perfect girl. Next, he purchases and builds up an appealing high-end night club. With those two things in place, he's absolutely content. Ronnie, however, is incapable of connecting with Reggie's aspirations. His impatience, ignorance and psychosis cause him to undermine everything. When Reggie's past catches up with him and temporarily sends him to jail, Ronnie's unintentional undermining begins. Turmoil ensues.
It's easily understandable why 'Legend' was formatted with the love-hate structure that it carries because that's how the real story unfolds – but as proven by the final product, that concept works better on paper than it does on screen. It ultimately makes the film rather unlikable. Stylistically, the scenes that combine both worlds don't work. There are many moments where I caught myself asking my wife, "While piecing this together in the editing bay, how could anyone think that this scene was working well?" When a movie's quality is so faulty that it pulls you away and distracts you from the principal story, then it's got a major issue.
Despite its massive flaw, there are still great aspects of 'Legend.' Tom Hardy has already proven himself on many occasions. He only solidifies his capabilities here. You'll never look at Reggie and Ronnie as being brought to life by the same actor. There aren't many actors that could have pulled this off in the way that Hardy did. But as great as he is, Emily Browning is the actor who truly surprised me here. She's absolutely perfect. Her character is the only one that goes through a fully visible on-screen arch. You see her young naivete, her head-over-heel blinded infatuation, her true love, and her heartbreak. You see her in both her strongest and weakest forms. Through it all, Browning crushes expectations via her performance. It's something to behold.
If there was ever a movie to see for performances alone, this would be it. To think of how great 'Legend' could have been if the quality of the screenplay matched those of the performances.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal has placed 'Legend' on a BD-50 disc and slapped it in a single-disc Elite keepcase with an Ultraviolet/iTunes digital copy code. Prior to getting to the disc's main menu, there's a flood of abbreviated film trailers, including 'Spotlight,' 'Jarhead 3: The Siege,' 'Trumbo,' 'London Has Fallen,' 'Race,' 'Steve Jobs,' 'Sisters' and 'By the Sea.'
'Legend' has been given a solid 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that's almost too sharp for its own good. Shot digitally, the near-perfect final product is stylistically unfitting for the era in which it's set. The picture is absolutely crisp and clear. Fine details are always visible. Facial pores and individual strands of hair stand out abundantly. Costume textures are consistently apparent. The nontraditional color scheme isn't what you'd expect from the period piece. It's much more colorful and vibrant than that, but it never dabbles into oversaturation. On many occasions, this greatness makes it easy to forget that the film is set in the 1960s. (Of course, this is a personal beef that I have and it will not be reflected in the score, but it's still worth noting.)
Banding, aliasing, noise and artifacts never arise, but some black levels result in crushing. There are many shadow-creating settings throughout, some of which have delineation issues. In those instances, details are lost within the shadows. Amid the strong aspect of the picture, this flaw is quite small and rather insignificant.
I was quite surprised to see that 'Legend' was given - amongst others - a 7.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track. Upon learning that, I expected it to perform above and beyond the standard strong 5.1 mixes, but it didn't quite get there.
The lacking area of the track is the effects mix. While effects are undeniably mixed well, there simply aren't enough of them. Obvious on-screen effects – like passing vehicles – carry seamless imaging and dynamic mixing, but there's a lack in subtle, environmental off-screen effects. They're simply not there. Most 7.1 mixes are far more lively in the effects area.
Fortunately, the music helps lift the audio from the flatlands. There's a harmonious blend of scoring and '60s pop hits, both of which bounce around the room brightly. Music brings an all-encompassing fullness to the space.
Also livening up the track is a solid vocal mix. Browning's character gives a voice-over narration loudly and clearly from the center channel. With many characters coming from the poorer and less-educated areas of London, some accents are rough and unrefined – but because the vocal track is so clear, you shouldn't miss a line of dialog.
I certainly love organized crime movies, but 'Legend' ultimately left me yerning for more. A lot more. For every good aspect of the film, there's an equally impactful negative aspect. It's not uncommon for crime movies to leave you rooting for bad guys, but there are only one or two likeable characters in the whole picture, so there's not much to connect with as an audience member. Without the great dual performance by Tom Hardy, a breakthrough performance by Emily Browning, and great (almost too-great) video quality, there wouldn't be any other reason to watch 'Legend.' The 7.1 audio isn't noteworthy and the special features aren't anything special. If you're dying to see it, a rental is the way to go.